Being ‘the man’ in Minnesota will be nothing new for Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins has been in the public spotlight as a basketball star for most of his life.

Jack Arent/NBAE/Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS — Without an iota of allegory, Andrew Wiggins was born for this.

The pedigree is there. So is the personal history, both measurable and immeasurable. From one fishbowl to the next, the impending Timberwolves trade acquisition’s star power has been high on exposure but not on shock value.

There’s a reason Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft set to be swapped for Kevin Love on Saturday, didn’t declare an academic major at the University of Kansas. Since early on, his field of study has been basketball, flashy gymnasiums around the continent his classroom.

"There’s no way he’s LeBron or Kobe," Jayhawks coach Bill Self told leading up to the draft, "but he’s the first Andrew."

The first Andrew can officially join Minnesota’s post-Love restocking effort Saturday, 30 days from when he signed his rookie deal with Cleveland, the team that picked him first in a deep, talented draft class. The hype surrounding his name stems from his ultra-elite athleticism, ravenous defense and a natural ability far beyond his 19 years of age.

The trail of evidence for it is hardly hidden.


Wiggins was born Feb. 23, 1995 to a former NBA player and an Olympic track performer. His father, Mitchell, played college hoops at Florida State and spent time with the Bulls, Rockets and 76ers off and on from 1983-92. Mitchell’s wife, Marita, was also a Seminole before representing Canada at the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games.

Perhaps the only possible deterrent to Wiggins’ love for basketball was growing up in a country where hockey reigns supreme. But his two brothers, Mitchell Jr. and Nick, took care of that with contentious pickup games in Toronto area parks, sometimes with their dad in the mix. The younger Mitchell played for NAIA Division II Southeastern University, while Andrew’s other older brother Nick just wrapped up his career at Wichita State and played for Sacramento’s summer league team last month.

"That’s what prepared me, them beating up on me and not taking it easy on me," Wiggins said in a March article.

By the time he reached Huntington Prep (W. Va.) High School, Wiggins was well on his way to becoming one of the most sought-after amateur basketball  prospects the world has seen. Every imaginable recruiting service ranked him the best in the land. As a junior, he earned the Naismith, Gatorade and USA Today prep player of the year honors.

Balancing his stardom between interscholastic competition and AAU exposure, Wiggins only spent three years at the high school powerhouse, which also produced Wolves center Gorgui Dieng. Wiggins played AAU ball among the likes of Tyler Ennis, Tristan Thompson, former Gophers forward Mo Walker and Anthony Bennett — who will join Wiggins in the Love trade but is expected to be dealt to Philadelphia for Thaddeus Young — for CIA Bounce.

So when the McDonald’s All-American chose Kansas over Kentucky, Florida State and North Carolina, Wiggins was no stranger to colossal expectations and immense hype.

But Lawrence, Kan., is a different kind of autoclave.

In one of the country’s most passionate college hoops hotbeds, there’s little room for individual legacy. Wilt Chamberlain, Paul Pierce, Danny Manning, Mario Chalmers, Ben McLemore, etc. — all are part of a greater whole that comprises the Jayhawks’ rich hoops tradition.

Just ask Minnesota general manager Milt Newton, who played alongside Manning on the 1988 "Danny and the Miracles" championship team coached by legendary Larry Brown.

In less than a calendar year, current coach Bill Self went from hinting that Wiggins was overrated — "He’s not a great player right now, he’s a great prospect," he said at the team’s media day last fall — to referring to him as one of the two greatest players he’s ever coached, the other being fellow 2014 top-3 pick Joel Embiid. During the Jayhawks’ Big 12 regular-season championship and third-round NCAA tourney run, Wiggins set the school’s single-season freshman scoring record and led the Jayhawks in steals.

Feb. 4, he hit a half-court shot against Baylor. Feb. 18, a game-winner at Texas Tech. March 8, a Kansas freshman-record 42 points at West Virginia.

It all solidified his season-long stance as a potential No. 1 overall pick, especially after Embiid suffered a foot injury that caused his stock to drop. Cleveland, meanwhile, inexplicably won the draft lottery for the second consecutive year and called Wiggins’ name right away June 26.

But LeBron James’ return to his home state sparked mutual interest from the Wolves and Cavs in sending Love, who can opt out of his contract after this season, to Cleveland. Minnesota president Flip Saunders insisted Wiggins be part of the package, and Cleveland eventually yielded.

The deal can’t be consummated until Saturday, per NBA trade rules, but all signs point toward Wiggins coming to the Twin Cities.

The spotlight will remain affixed in his direction, though for different reasons than he originally expected. Instead of developing behind James on a championship contender, he’ll become the emerging face of a franchise that hasn’t even reached the postseason in a decade.

But that’s fine with him, Self said recently.

"When all this trade stuff started, I talked to Andrew and Andrew told me, ‘I hope I get traded,’" Self told the Associated Press earlier this month. "And I’m like, ‘No, you don’t.’ And he said, ‘Coach, I do. It’s better for me, knowing my personality and what I need to do, to go somewhere where I’m forced to be something as opposed to going in there where they’re going to be patient with me and I’m going to be a piece.’"

Wiggins won’t be a piece in Minnesota. He’ll be the piece.

But that’s nothing new.

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